Link to Profile Semperoper, Dresden Sieg (auf dem Siegesäule), Berlin Brandenburg Tor, Berlin Skyline, Frankfurt am Main

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Today is a Good Day to Die

Actually it wasn't that dramatic, but I couldn't say today was a good day to fly. Not if you wanted to actually see anything, with visibility somewhere around 7 kilometers and a fairly overcast sky and a few lower, scattered clouds. Cartinaly not the kind of day to go sight-seeing, rather just one to keep myself in practice.

Actually it was a little dramatic, for about thirty seconds. I was on downwind when the tower called out "traffic on four mile final." I looked but he was nowhere to be seen, so I replied "traffic not in sight."

Then he calls to the other aircraft in German and gives my bearing and tells him I don't see him. So I continue on downwind (you are essentially flying parallel to the runway and away from the airport before turning in to land into the wind ... the turn puts you on at a right angle to final, which is the path to the runway ... after a few seconds, you turn onto final and line up to land).

About a minute later, the tower asks "Are you extending your downwind?" Well, the answer to that should have been "Yes," but I had already decided to turn base. Next question please.

So now the Tower asks, "Do you see your traffic?" I'm still thinking about his last question ... actually, I'm thinking, "Was that a question or an instruction?"

Up to that point, no, I have not seen my traffic. The Tower had said four-mile final, and I guess I was thinking in kilometers, so I assumed I had passed him and that I could turn onto the Base-leg. Now that I have turned ... gee, there he is ... just to my left, in front of me and below me. A curious place since we were about 3 km out and I had already descended to 1200 feet (yes, feet, and that places me about 800 feet, and him somewhere around 500 feet, above ground).

"Affirmative. Traffic at my 11 o'clock and low, got him in sight."

Ugh! I have never done that before ... I usually wait to turn when I am abeam the other guy. It wasn't dangerously close, but it was a reminder how even in the slowest of planes things can get ahead of you if you let them.

At that point, now that I have to bleed off a lot of airspeed to keep my distance, I have time to ponder the role of the guys in the "Tower." Even at the smaller fields they "own" the airspace, but they play more of an advisory role than anything resembling the control a U.S. pilot expects from a Towered airport. For example, at my earlier takeoff he had called out my traffic turning base to final and told me it was my discretion on how to proceed. Uh huh? That's not so different from an uncontrolled field in the U.S. or, oddly enough, France.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, small civil airfields in Germany must be manned with at least two guys (one for the radio and one for the fire truck) for the field to be open. Notwithstanding the presence of a thing you might call a Tower, this is why, when you call these guys up, you call them "Such-and-such Info" and not "Such-and-such Tower." But they do collect the landing fees.

And I re-play his last question ... "Are you extending your downwind?" At a controlled airport in America, that would not have been a question, it would have been an instruction. If it hadn't been given, I would have probably done it anyway. But here I was trying to weave the aircraft between two small towns to keep it on the preferred path so that I didn't cause any noise complaints. I am still a newbie to flying at small civil airfields in German airspace, so I am balancing flying the plane against being a good German. Won't make that mistake again.

The picture here is on final ... if you look closely you will see the other guy just over the threshhold (beginning part) of the runway. At the point of my turn onto final he was a bit closer, so I dumped all the flaps, hauled the nose up to slow down and then added enough power to keep me flying ... a very slow approach to add some space between us. Despite that, when I was about 300 feet out, he was still on the runway ... I thought I would have to go around, but he finally turned off.

So I ask the Tower if I am cleared to land, and I kid you not, his words are something to the effect of "As you like." Note to self: At this field, must remember these guys are called "Info" (Just to be fair to them, they vectored me straight in earliter instead of making me go to a designated reporting point, which made my life easier and was a really nice thing to do).

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

When do We Get to Enjoy Life ?

I could whine-on for about twelve paragraphs about what I have gotten myself into, suffice it to say the following: I think my new boss is passive aggressive, the organization is seriously disorganized, I am a serious mis-match for the corporate culture, and I have only myself to blame.

To start with the party of the first part, we met at 20:00 on Tuesday evening becaue that is the first time he has had "a few minutes" to talk to me in the three and half weeks that I have been there. The most annoying comment was something along the lines of, "I'm glad to see you are finally staying with the rest of us a few nights of the week." The "rest of us" put in 12-hour days doing things that I have not quite fathomed ... I've only been putting in 10-hour days, but have been exceeding all requirements, at least as far as I can tell, except for the one that a good worker puts in 12-hour days.

I saw this one coming three weeks ago when I saw a Management presentation that said something to the effect of, "Be a good example .... Work long hours." I kid you not, they actually said that. Not something like, "Work Hard" or "Work Smart." Work long. The presumption is that working long is working hard. And they are plenty busy, but again, at what I am not certain.

I used to jab my American colleagues because they ran around all day carrying day planners and cups of coffee from one meeting to another and then complaining that they were so busy and couldn't get anything done, but when you analyzed what was going on in the meetings, most of it was re-capping the last meeting and planning the next. I think the ratio went something like 20-minutes recap, 10-minutes new progress, 20-minutes planning of the next meeting, and 10-minutes to get a cup of coffee and get to the next meeting. But at least they got out from behind their desks.

My first German colleagues would sit at their desks all morning moving a stack of papers from one side to another, all the while making phone calls and typing away at their computer. Then they would go to lunch and coffee for an hour-and-a-half. Then they came back and moved the stack back to the other side of the desk while returning the phone calls they missed at lunch. I'm sure they accomplished some things of value, but not much. Oh, by the way, at least two other coffee breaks were sprinkled in there for another hour or so of break-time. And then they would go home at roughly 7 p.m.

These were bankers, who are noted for their "long hours." In New York we started at 7 a.m. and went to 9 pm (mostly because the company picked up the cost of a limo home if you stayed until 9), but we did get out from behind our desks and we only took 45 minutes or so for lunch and breaks, if we took that. I actually miss having a sandwich at my desk!

Things seem to be changing in the Industrial Mittelstand nowadays, especially among the white collar ranks, which I have ostensibly joined. For one thing, the concept of going home by 5 pm seems to be vanishing. I have said it before and will no doubt say it again, but the Germans have a knack for imitating the worst of Anglo-American life. Part of that would be our long hours. But I do not mind working long hours if I am actually using them to accomplish something. When I feel like I am no longer accomplishing something, it is time to go home. Or to Chinese class. Or to meet with friends. Or anything else for that matter that reminds me I have a life.

Tonight (actually yesterday evening at the time I am typing this), I had Chinese class. I told my boss the evening before, after his "staying with the rest of us" comment that I do not mind putting in the long hours when it is really needed, but I only asked that he support my personal development by helping me keep Wednesday evenings free so I could get back to Frankfurt for class ... I would like to leave at 6 pm on Wednesdays unless there was a really pressing need for me to stay late. Sure enough, the first Wednesday night after that, there seemed to be a pressing need.

In fact, he didn't even wait for the evening ... after spending an hour-and-a-half in Stau (traffic congestion) in the morning, I arrived to an 8 am "urgent" e-mail asking for the latest updated EBIT projections. At 9pm the evening before, he had mentioned that I would need to gather the data and put them together into the spreadsheets our group had constructed over the past year. I should look at them the next day, and figure them out, and then plug in the data when it arrived later this week.

Now, this being the next day, I was asked for the finished product, despite not having a moment to look at the existing infrastructure and, even better, despite nobody having even asked for the data. I have not been fully introduced to the organization, so it was highly unlikely that me asking for it was going to actually get it ... that song doesn't even play in America, much less Germany, the land of K=P.

I had also mentioned to him the evening before that I had looked at the examples and while ultimately understandable, it might take me a couple hours to fully understand the structure because the calculations were spread across a half-dozen spreadsheets with a host of broken links. In programmer parlance, one would say that I was looking at Spaghetti-code ... it could be followed, but it's less like reading sheet music and more like working Sudoku. It can be done, but there is a learning curve. His comment to that was, "We hired you because you are experienced and can therefore figure these things out quicker than someone new to the field."

There is a lot of truth to that last comment, but it is extremely cocky. It was not, however, as annoying as his comment about my request for Wednesday nights, which went something like, "That is the sort of thing I will need to talk to you about when I review you, for example at the end of your Probezeit (probationary period)." I don't know if he was being positive about my self-development, or critical about my willingness to sacrifice for the greater good. I ordinarily think the best of people and their motivation, but, unlike the two interviews leading up to the offer, there was a dark-side starting to show itself.

All of which is a long way of saying, the warm fuzzies wore off some time ago. The manner in which the application for the work permit was the first warning signal. By the first day, when they told me I would be going on a business trip to visit various plants and sites the following day and that all arrangements had been made (think about that ... less than one hour on the job and I am being told, not asked, that I will be travelling for three out of the first five days on the job ... this could have been brought up in the four extra weeks I was waiting to start, but for some reason was not). I love travel ... I like it even more when I am prepared to do it. Having it sprung on me set off warning light number two. Then I was told I would attend a seminar at the end of October ... told, not consulted. I guess that is his perogative as a boss, but warning light number three goes off, and that sets off the Master Caution Light ... this guy has serious communication issues.

And I call him on it at each juncture. He admits that communication is not one of his strong suits, but that he has a lot on his plate and sometimes needs to take the most expedient approach. This, for me at least, raises questions about compatibility. I love to collaborate ... when that fails, I will respond to orders if the money is good. When both of those fail, I start checking for the exits. Since I compromised on the money, I already know my way to the nearest exit.

I hate it when that happens, because invariably it means that I am not having fun. Life is short ... why bother if you are not at least enjoying it?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Change of Pace

Monday morning I did something I didn't think I would do again ... I ran for a train.

I lamented my recent bout with a cold, flu, whatever a couple days ago ... BTW, it cleared up by Monday ... and mentioned a few previous injuries, but I forgot all about tearing my quadricep muscle in my leg a couple years ago. It was plenty painful when it happened, along with the concommitant need to inject myself daily with anti-coagulants to break up any clots that might form. Aside from the fact that I couldn't walk for a couple of weeks and had trouble descending stairs for nearly a year, I pretty much didn't notice it ... except for the fact that I could not run. In fact, I had resigned myself to the sad fact that if I ever indeed had to make a run for my life, I was surely a dead man.

It didn't help that I had put on a few pounds over the past several years. Well, it seems that all of the golfing (walking) and bicycling I had done over the past year actually paid off ... to steal a phrase from Jen, I lost a Kylie over the summer. I could still afford to lose another. But some good had been done.

I was late for the train, oddly enough, because the first suit I put on was far too baggy. So, I decided to try on a suit I had not squeezed into since I had moved to Germany, with all of its starch laden, sauce covered foods. I could actually wear it. Good news, I guess, since it was a very nice suit from my New York days, when I had more dollars than sense. On the flip side, I seem to have a lot of nice clothes that are far too large now. It's a problem I can live with.

But having taken the time to model my old wardrobe, I used up most of the time I had to get to the Bahn this morning, and I had committed my car to the Partnerin, whose own car was going in for servicing.

So as I struggled to get the ticket machine to accept my fiver as legit currency, the S-bahn was pulling into the station ... miss that and all the other connections are screwed and then I am an hour late. So I thought, let's do this, and started running for the train. And I could run. I tried this a few months back, and the leg still would have none of it over more than a dozen meters. Today it worked.

Good to know that I can run for my life if I have to.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Things I Wish Were Easier to Find in Germany #007
Plain Old Saltine Crackers

When you have the flu, cold, whatever, bland with a little salt is ok. I can nibble on these or let them go mushy in my chicken soup. Germans don't seem to have anything quite like the good old plain saltine. The nearest German equivalent is Zwieback, which look like miniature pieces of white-bread toast but with a totally wrong taste and consistency for my liking, and no salt to boot.

I haven't found plain saltines in Germany, but like so many other things (gel deodorant and cinnamon flavored mouthwash being a couple of examples) we Americans know and love, you can find them in France. Funny, No?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

When Good Pumpkins go Bad

The Partnerin has gotten into the Pumpkin carving thing the past couple of years, but being a good German she is not content to simply carve it for display. So she scoops out a good portion of it to make Kurbissuppe.

Unfortunately, scooping it out accelerates the process of decay since there is less structure there, so he didn't quite make it to Halloween.

I know how he feels.

Another Lost Weekend

It's official ... I am ill. Just in time for the weekend. There is a god (or there are gods, depending your own particular belief system), and they are tormenting me, nay punishing me for a summer of sun, fun and play. Those who the gods would destroy, they first make mad (that's "insane" for those of you whose public school education didn't touch on "mad" being a synonym of "insane" ... although I must admit I harbor a residual feeling of anger that being ill falls on my time and not entirely on those of my new German masters).

I hate this. When you haven't been ill for a long while, you forget how miserable it feels. Despite the MediNait (the German equivalent of NyQuil), you don't sleep. You don't sleep, ergo it takes longer to get better. It takes longer to get better, ergo you don't sleep. The head throbs, and the nostrils stream a fluid volume of mucous that you start to believe exceeds the body's total fluid volume. You wish you were dead. Well, not really. b

I've had pain in my life before ... the broken digit from a bad parachute landing fall, a few serious cuts, a knife stab and a gunshot from being in the wrong part of the world at the wrong time, and a series of body-wide traumas from the 18-wheeler that rolled over my car, ending my Air Force career and changing my life perhaps for the better. I survived them all, and put them all behind me. Only when I lie in bed ill on a chilly, grey day bemoaning my suffering do I need to revisit them to remember what it is to truly feel miserable and be in pain.

What sometimes amazes me is that I might actually die in bed ... I don't mind the thought of that, except that I might prefer it be in the pursuit of "sport" and not simply in my sleep, although I once had someone tell me to think for a moment of what a horrible experience that would be for the person I died on or under. There is still something of a nice guy in me, so that hit home. Dammit.

I thought having made it this far that I might go out in a fiery Mercedes Benz pyre on the German Autobahns, but there has been so much Stau lately that I doubt it would be so majestic ... No, I am a mere slow-speed mortal these days, so unless I rig the fuel line to spritz me on an impact of X g's or better, I will simply die on on the Joanniter's gurney while the twisted remains of my chariot ruin the day of the thousands of others stuck in the resulting Stau. Every time I'm stuck I joke that somebody had better died for inconveniencing me (this remark has shocked every female passenger who has ever heard it, which means there are obviuos limits to what constitutes humor for most people) ... it would only be fitting that my Unfall results in my death,

Which is perhaps a good transition to the fact that, perhaps because we have such blessed lives, we Americans are prone to hyperbole on a grand scale ... I get a cold, I think of death.

Friday, October 20, 2006

I Have a Confession

I didn't start out looking to find a magazine for the Russian the other day. I was looking for something for myself when this caught my eye. I thought about giving it to her since we had had a bit of a conversation about Tatu and their popularity in America (they did Saturday Night Live in the school-girl outfits ... don't know if they did much more of that since I had moved by that time) and whether or not I can hear an accent in their voices when they sing in English (I can, but it is not so thick), but then I thought she might enjoy Marie Claire more, which she apparently did.

The confession? I actually bought a copy of GQ. Oh - my - god!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Stirred, but not Shaken

Men are simple creatures. No matter how smart we are, no matter how disciplined we are, no matter how principled we are, unless we are gay, we are rarely immune to the charms of the opposite sex. Some women and most pretty girls know this and use it to their great advantage. Others know it and suffer in silence as their men are distracted. Still others never get it and will ever bemoan the fact that they don't understand men.

I"m coming down with a cold or something. I have not been sick in more than two years. I chalk the end of this nice stretch of health up to the stress of having a new job and commuting what seems like half-way across Germany each day to get to it. Oddly enough, leaving my last job with no other in hand was a relatively stress free event ... it meant freedom, with ample time and money to do a lot of things I didn't have time to do when I was working, or to even do nothing if that is what I felt like doing. And I did a lot of all of that. Now I have to put in time again, and I am not adjusting to it as well as I would have liked.

But I attribute some of this bout with a cold to other contributing factors. The Russian invited me out for drinks the other evening, and since the Partnerin was working very late that evening and I was in transit to an empty home, it seemed like a reasonable way to fill the evening.

The Russian smokes quite a bit, but is generally conscientious about where she blows it. Despite that, I took in a lot more second hand smoke than I would on a given day, but that is life in a European bar in any event. Strike one. Cigarette smoke plays havoc with the immune system.

We ordered a couple of Absoluts straight up, which kind of threw the waiter for a loop ... surely there must be other people in Germany who drink vodka, but from the look of incredulity in his eye it seemed we were a rarity in this upscale bar in the financial district of Frankfurt. Why, you might ask, would we order straight Absolut? Duh ... She is Russian.

As for me, I would have ordered a Vodka Martini, but in Germany these fools actually put a sizable amount of Martini® (vermouth) in the glass rendering it undrinkable by American tastes. I have on several occasions told German bartenders to literally put a couple of drops of Martini into the glass and to fill the rest with vodka, but to no avail ... I still get a glass half-full -- or half-empty depending how you look at things -- with vermouth.

Now I will admit that it isn't a Martini without Martini®, but that doesn't mean you go half-and-half with the stuff. A real Martini is a nuanced blend of flavors which have been the subject of debate for years. Most American bartenders I knew when I was one myself back in school will tell you a Perfect (vodka) Martini is essentially pure vodka ... wrong!

My own recipe was simply to ice the glass and pour in a bit of vermouth while simultaneously putting ice and vodka in the shaker and then either stirring or shaking for roughly 10 seconds ... enough to chill the vodka without totally watering it down (some dilution is desirable). Then you pour out the vermouth/ice mixture and you have a nicely chilled glass with traces of vermouth to make it an official Martini, into which you strain the chilled and slightly diluted vodka from the shaker. As to what flavor of vermouth, that is your personal choice. French or dry vermouth if you want it dry, Italian or sweet vermouth -- Martini® so to say -- if you want it dell'arte italiana. Garnish with lemon or olives ... I go for lemon, but only because it fits my personality. But I digress.

We were both shocked at a couple of points. First, we were served Smirnoff. Despite advertising Absolut, they had none. The waiter asked if that was OK, and the Russian frowned at him. I made a joke that no self respecting Russian would drink Smirnoff, but there seemed to be a lot of truth in that statement. He put the glasses down and backed off nervously ... he must have thought we were both Russian since we were both drinking vodka and the small talk up to that point had been in Russian, and he probably feared for his life since I was wearing a nice suit, drinking vodka, speaking Russian, and sitting with a smoking hot Russian babe nearly one-half my age, and therefore must be Russian mafia. Used to be you could scare them simply by being an American.

The second annoying point for the Russian and myself was that the glasses came without garnish. It seems German bartenders have a tough time knowing when to garnish something. A wave and a snap of the fingers and lemon wedges appeared, but it should never have come to that. Third, the vodka was room temperature, and we both like it cold. Finally, mostly to my personal displeaure, the drinks came in rock glasses ... I would have thought for the prices they were advertising here that they could have a few nice "Traditional" long-stemmed Martini glasses, but these seem to be rarities in Germany. You would think with all of the old American movies that they show on TV here that this would have caught on as a trend, but I guess you have to take the expenditure to the next level of magnitude before they bring out the pricier glassware. But in any case, Strike Two, as alcohol also depresses the immune system.

So we choked those down ... I kid you not, do not serve Smirnoff to a Russian ... and talked on for about 30 minutes, at which time the waiter nervously approached and asked how it was. I snarled something to the effect of "Not so good," and asked for the check. He even more nervously said something to the effect of, "If it is not good, then you shouldn't pay for it." I missed that point, but it was not lost on the Russian, who, living on an Au Pair's wages, is much more careful with her money than I am with mine, and in this case was being careful with mine. Which is either a very nice gesture or the Russian looking out for her own long-term self-interest ... I don't know which crosses her mind, but I assume the best of her.

As I came back from the men's room, she had been checking out the others in the room and then told me, "You look like the others!"

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"You look like a banker!"

"Well, I used to be one. Still have the clothes to prove it. They come in handy for the new job." It was the second time in the evening she had displayed a bit of disconnect from my reality.

The first was her comment on my attache full of papers, which was something like "Why are you carrying all of that?"

"Because I am coming from work." I had come via Die Bahn that day, and had to drag my stuff around with me.

"You mean you have not been home?" she asked. She obviously hasn't had much experience with the workaday world as I've known it lately ... it must be nice to be able to go home before going out, but that hasn't been the case for me since Thursdays in New York many, many years ago. Aside from Thursdays, the evening out before you went out of the City for the weekend, going out usually meant directly from work.

She had had a tough day of Au Pair'ing, so she was dressed in Jeans and a cute Tee with a sequined "A" on it ... a little Hawthornesque, I thought, but I let it pass since it was a literary allusion certain to be lost on her. I had never seen her in Jeans before ... we had gotten together on a couple of other evenings, and it was usually a nice mini-skirt, although her sexiest occasion, oddly enough, was when she wore a suit that would have passed for the standard office attire of high-powered NY Attorneyette. Which was a funny observation, because one of her aspirations once she is settled here in the West is to go back to school and study law. I always had a thing for professional women, and I don't mean call-girls. But I digress again.

But she had really had a tough day of Au Pair'ing and it showed. I had had a tough day with the Bahn, which had been running roughly 45 minutes late. It seems the gods were trying to tell me something, but I did not heed their warning. Instead, I browsed the international press shop until I found a Russian version of Marie Claire. And this was the time to give it to her. You would have thought I had produced a blue box from Tiffany.

The Blonde Librarian had done a post some time ago, the gist of which there are two types of immigrants -- Career immigrants and Love immigrants. Well, there is a third type that we in the first two categories don't ordinarily think of ... economic immigrants. This is not quite the same as a career immigrant, since we typically have a good lifestyle in either home or host country. For economic immigrants, it is largely a one-way trip and at a very heavy cost. Those of us in the first two categories whine about how hard life as an expat can be, but I trust most of us can find the occasional magazine in our native language and then afford to buy it without having to give up this week's phone call to mom. But I digress again.

Neither of us had eaten up to that point, but given our disappointment with this place, we decided to migrate to another place. You can find a few places open at 11 pm on a Tuesday in Frankfurt. In our case, we wandered up to the Escherheimer Tor and had a light dinner sitting outside under those butane heaters that occasionally work OK when the wind isn't blowing. It was windy, however, and we were both cold. When a Siberian girl is cold, it must be cold. But we talked on for another hour and a half. Strike three ... my resistance is out.

As I said, men are simple creatures. Sit one down with a pretty girl on a cold evening, and he won't have enough sense to come out of the cold.

On the MP3 Player This Week

Seems like the same old stuff, but a few changes in the lineup ...

1) Jay-Z: Bluepprint2 - The Gift & The Curse
2) Kylie Minogue: Ultimate Kylie
3) Sergio Mendes: Timeless
4) Jamiroquai: Dynamite
5) KT Tunstall: Eye to the Telescope
6) Scritti Politi: Cupid & Psyche '85
7) Various: Moscow - The Sex, The City, The Music
8) Moby: 18
9) Pet Shop Boys: Fundamental
10) Contemporary Chinese (Tracks to accompany the lesson book)
11) Various: Ultra Trance vol 3

Monday, October 16, 2006

It's Official ...
There's not enough time in the week

I'm not sure I like going back to work ... it intereferes with my life. Ugh!!! Then again I sometimes try to do too much. Actually I am in awe of you bloggers who do the eight million things you do, blog about it, and oh, by the way, raise children in a multi-lingual family. You know who you are. I secretly envy those of you in business for yourselves; until recently, I did not have that privilege in Germany, so it was not a so-called middle road that I could take. No, I had to jump back into the wage-slave class if I wanted to stay in Germany. But I suspect you work longer hours than I do, so I'll check the envy at the door, at least for a few more weeks while I figure out where this thing is going. In the meantime, here is where the time goes ...

I start the day early in the morning driving an hour south to the new job, where I check in around 8 a.m. Not so bad ... I had earlier hours in New York. I stay at that until roughly 7 p.m. I also worked far longer than that in New York. The Partnerin and I had a good laugh when, during the interview process, the head of the group told me that they work long hours, sometimes as late as 7 !!! I rarely see the Partnerin before 9, but I am mercifully home somewhere between 8 and 8:30.

I'm still taking Chinese courses, but I realized that to keep up with the homework I either needed to carve out a chunk of time on the weekends or find it during the week. Enter Deutsche Bahn ... the train adds roughly 30 minutes to each end of the commute, but it gives me roughly 45 minutes of quality study time each way, so I've been taking it once or twice a week. Just as well, and it saves the poor car from a few hundred kilometers per week.

I haven't had German classes for some time, but I still get together with the kids from time to time for drinks, dinner, and we even go clubbing. The Russian is helping me brush up on my 20-year old Russian language skills in exchange for giving her a chance to brush up on her English. My old chain of command would have had a cow if I had known a smoking hot babe from Novosibirsk 20 years ago ... then again, I think she was only 5 back then ... and no doubt one of the millions destined to be on the receiving end of the weapons we had pointed in that direction and waiting for the turn of a few keys. World-wide delivery in thirty minutes or less, guaranteed. Ah, for the good old days of the Cold War, when the world was a safer place. But I digress.

I didn't want to carve out time from the week ends, because that is when I want to do some flying, travelling, or wandering. This past weekend included a round-robin flight from Egelsbach to Aschaffenburg to Mannheim to Koblenz and back. No photos unfortunately because although the sky was cheerily blue, the haze was phenomenally thick ... I was legal VFR (visual flight rules), but glad I could fly Instrument if I had to.

I haven't touched a golf club in three weeks, but I still bake bread ... in fact, have a loaf rising in the oven as I type away at this, having just finished dinner. The Partnerin, finally home, is sitting on the couch laughing her head off to Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Funny the things she likes ... West Wing, Queer Eye, and a couple of others. Oddly enough, I'm watching a lot less television ... I wonder which one of us is the real American here.

And now that I think about it, I really should read a few other blogs and try to post thoughtful, or even dumb comments. One of the community once wrote about how we don't write for comments but then again we do ... a lot of truth to that. Hope you are all well!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

I'm in a Starbucks State of Mind

Kim Jong Il can rest easy tonight, nuke or no nuke, knowing that the American educational system is his best line of defense against a Starbucks in Pyongyang.

Starbucks: Where Six of One is Not a Half-Dozen of the Other

Employee: Ma'am, can I help you?
Woman: I'd like a half dozen of your chocolate chip cookies.
Employee: We only sell them, like, 1, 2, 3...
Woman to friend: Is she serious?
Friend: She'll take 6.

--Starbucks, Rockefeller Center Concourse

via Overheard in New York, Aug 13, 2006

Why it Doesn't Matter What the World Thinks of the U.S.

The F-22 "Raptor," seen here effortlessly going supersonic without afterburners. If you're a pilot or geek (or both), you'll appreciate the power of that statement. And while this guy was blazing past, his wingman was a couple thousand feet higher, using vectored thrust to pivot 360 degrees on a single point in the sky, with extensive Look-Down-Shoot-Down capabilities ready to take out anything in the skies around it. Great fun to watch in action, unless you are the adversary.

Why the World Hates the U.S.

Despite being constantly packed with tourists, this is perhaps my favorite Starbucks simply because of the location. I joke with my German friends that when I'm in Berlin I stop in to get a Frappucino and then do a little American victory march through the Brandenburg Tor. Yep, sick and twisted, but good fun.

I still don't know how Starbucks managed to get permission to get a storefront looking out on Germany's premier national monument ... maybe Claire had a point in her post about German Unity Day that the Germans still swallow a lot of national pride, although that was not evident in three of the four visits I made to the Auslandersamt in the past several months. The first Beamter had something to prove ... "It is of no interest to me that you have a job offer ... No job at the present time, so no Niederlassungserlaubnis" and "I don't care how much money you have in the bank." The east european she had processed just before me only had to demonstrate EUR 7,000 in the bank to support herself, but for me it was not a relevant factor. Hmmm! Then my case worker goes on her holiday, and my case is reviewed by her older colleague, who looks at my 6 years in Germany, the contract, and my bank statement and all is copacetic. I've said it before and I'll no doubt say it again, Germans on the whole have a love-hate relationship with Americans, but in the younger generations it is starting to trend more towards the latter.

And Starbucks is part of the reason why they and the rest of the World seem to resent America: Coke & Pepsi are another. Germany is swimming in fizzy water. Some of it gets exported to places like America where yuppies drink it for snob appeal, although most of them go for the french or italian brands. As for America, it takes fizzy water, adds sugar, flavoring, and coloring and turns it into not one, but two dominant global brands. There are very few non-American international brands that have the scale and scope of the dozens of American brands that blanket the global landscape. That is why they hate us.

The Soviets always feared the US Air Force would show up one day in the skies over Moscow. In one of those strange "They never saw it coming" moments, we knew the Soviet Union was finished when McDonalds opened an outlet in Moscow. Now Starbucks has a view to the Brandenburg Tor. I'm just waiting for the day they open a shop on the Champ de Mars with a view to la Tour Eiffel just to annoy the French. Viva McDonalds & Starbucks. One world capital at a time.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Where in the World is Mike B ???

No, I did not die. I also did not run away with one of the pretty Russian girls from German class. I did not go crazy. I did not get kicked out of the country. I was not convicted of any crimes and have not been in jail.

I did go to the US a few times over the last couple of months, thus rendering me technically ineligible to blog as Der Auslander since I was really The Inlander, but I have since come back to Germany. Amazingly, the Beamters are letting me stay, so I guess I can resume blogging as Der Auslander.

Sorry for leaving things up in the air. The Partnerin has asked me perhaps twenty times in the last three weeks what is going on with my blog, to which I could only reply, "Uh, I don't know. I haven't looked at it since July." So I finally looked at it and was immediately smacked across the head with a very touching comment from a reader who said she missed reading my posts. I realize we all blog for many reasons, but you don't appreciate having readership until you step away from blogging for a while and then have someone write something like that a couple of months after your last post. It smacked me across the head because I had also shut myself out of a view to many interesting lives and worlds which other bloggers had opened to me, and I kind of missed those too.

So ... what have I been up to?

I went first to Florida, to wrap up my father's estate and to recreate (as in the verb form of recreation). As the old saying goes, a bad day at the beach is better than a good day at the office. Fortunately for me, there were no bad days at the beach. As for a good day at the office, I only recently set foot in one again, but despite being grateful for the opportunity to work again, I can confirm the old saying in spades ... My first week into the job, and I'm already tempted to run away to the beach.

You don't necessarily take the boy out of the man. True to my old self, I went for the Mustang convertible. For kicks I sent a few pix in an MMS to one of my 24 y.o. classmates, who used to tell me of her desire to go live on the beach and drive a cabrio, which is pretty much what my life consisted of when I was 24. This was again my lifestyle for sefveral weeks in July. She is, of course, looking for a man to keep her in that lifestyle, but she never once suggested that she saw me that way, so I didn't take it very seriously when I got her reply SMS, which was, "Can I come join you?"

I didn't think she would execute, so I fired back with, "Sure, get a visa and come on over and you can crash with me." She actually went looking for a visa to visit, but it is apparently not easy for Russians to get visas to the US if they appear to have no roots or ties that assure they will leave the US within the alloted 90 days. Just as well ... I don't know if I would have behaved myself. No, on second thought, I know I would not have behaved myself. But she would have looked great in the car in any case. In case you wonder, that was her torso pictured in one of my earlier posts ... use your imagination to fill in the rest of her and you will agree that I surely dodged a bullet from the Partnerin thanks to an assist from the State Department.

I also reconnected with an old flame, my first love actually. I try to do that whenever I am in the States. No, not another woman ... Flying. In the States it is still mercifully easy and cheap to rent a plane. In fact, the bug-smasher pictured here, a 1976 Cessna 172-M, is one of the first planes I flew as a teen-ager while working toward my license. It was strange to be sitting in the same plane again nearly 27 years later, and I must admit it has seen better days, but it still flies nicely.

But this time I got the jones for flying here in Europe. I decided to explore what it would take to do it, and that is the Rhein river pictured there out over the left wing strut as testament to finally taking action. I knew that I could go a few different routes to legally flying in Germany. The first would be to get the Germans to "validate" my US license so that I can rent German registered planes. This isn't too difficult, but this being Germany and my Visa status still being up in the air, I did not want to spend a lot of money to validate just to find out that this, like several of my other certifications, would expire with my Visa and would require re-validation that would last only as long as my new Visa. The next route would be to simply get a German license, which would essentially be like starting anew. Again, the visa issue made that problemmatic, although, like my drivers license, it would not automatically expire with the visa.

The final route was to find a US-registered aircraft based here in Germany. Given the international accords covering these things, a US licensed pilot can fly a US registered plane pretty much anywhere in the world with little or no hassle provided his or her paperwork is in order. Well, there are a few N-registered planes in Germany, and I found a nice one in the local area. Here we are walking out the ramp to it for my check-out flight (unlike automobile rentals, nobody in their right mind will rent you a plane without at least checking you out to see that you can really fly the thing safely).

Here we are buzzing along up toward what Jen affectionately calls Boweltown.

This is the old airfield at Boweltown.

This is the Tower at Mainz. I had to visit them to pay my landing fees, which include a charge for noise. The US has some airports that charge landing fees, but the vast majority of the general aviation fields do not since they are maintained via the taxes you pay when you buy aviation fuel. In Germany, you pay stiff taxes on the fuel. You then pay separately for the landings which means you have to fully stop the plane, climb up to the tower and fork over roughly EUR 14 per landing. So you don't do many touch and goes to keep your landing skills up to snuff. I think it shows when I watch the typical German private pilot landing. In the US I wouldn't think twice about doing an hour of touch and goes on a Saturday. Here the privilege might cost you a couple hundred euros above the cost of renting the plane.

To legally take-off and land in Germany, somebody needs to be on duty to run the radio and the firetruck, so most of the small airports are closed pretty much after dark. You can make prior arrangements, but it will cost you stiffly. If you don't make prior arrangements and you find yourself landing after airport closing hours, you will have either declared an emergency and therefore face stiff paperwork and penalties, or you will find yourself landing at places like Frankfurt, which will set you back something like EUR 500.

Unlike the US, you also pay for information from the weather service. It is indeed different over here. But once you clear the hurdles, it is still interesting to see the place from another perspective. More posts and better pictures will follow.

I also spent several weeks in New York, taking an apartment in my old neighborhood, the Upper East Side. This is the view to the south from the balcony of my apartment.

Here is what $3,000 per month will get you there. You don't see it from here, but there is a rather large bedroom and a nice marble bathroom, so you do get some value for the money. It wouldn't be me if there weren't cables running all over the place.

I originally went there just to reconnect with my old world. The Partnerin was there for a week, and during that week I went looking for and found a job. And then I learned that the old promise the Partnerin made to me, the one where we would move to the US if one of us had a job there, was as good as the paper it was written on (there was no written agreement, but I have done 6+ years in Germany, so we both agreed it was my turn to decide where to go next).

So I turned down the job in NYC. I still don't know how I feel about that. But at least I got a chance to flex my Chinese lessons and eat a lot of good food while doing it.

Not to worry, though, for I got a new job in Germany. It is roughly one hour south of Frankfurt, so I had to buy a new car. Both my mother and the Partnerin said it is a mistake for an ex-banker to show up at a Mittelstand firm driving one of these, but the Russian does indeed look really good in this one, and being a middle-aged guy possilby having a mid-life crisis, that still carries some weight. The only problem is that you really can't pack a lot into one of these ... so I tell the Partnerin to bring a toothbrush and a bikini. This does not go over very well with her ... I haven't dared to utter those words to the Russian because she really will! I still bring gasoline to a bonfire, but I don't always pour it on!

So I ultimately found a job here in Germany. It pays OK, and the people are nice. There was a bit of drama with the Auslandersamt, which at first refused to reissue my visa for more than two years, but they ultimately granted me the coveted Niederlassungserlaubnis, which is an indefinite permission to live and work here. By the time we got to that point, I had received permission from the UK Home Office to migrate there for two years, so I had a backup in case the Beamters decided to continue to be a pain in the arse. I still have four months to take up the UK residence, so we'll see how things go in the probationary period (its a two-way street ... I like the people, but I'm still not fully convinced taking the gig in Germany was the right thing to do). We will see.